Sunday, November 15, 2009

Windows 7 Impressions

I've had Windows 7 RTM installed for more than a month now as my primary OS. I clung to XP for as long as possible but I think it's time to make the shift.

Let me start off by saying that I really like Windows 7 and there are some improvements in the window manager (Win+Left/Right/Up/Down keys, desktop preview) which are really nice. On the flipside, some of the niggles I've experienced that I thought would disappear as I understood the OS better but have turned into full fledged annoyances. Let me enumerate them:

1. The new Taskbar. My main gripe is that the program icons don't stay put. In XP I had a toolbar on the taskbar with double-sized icons (no text) in which I would put shortcuts to my most frequently used applications. The new Taskbar approximates this functionality except now that the shortcuts double as running programs, my shortcut icons move to the right as I open other things. This is a pain because I have to visually search for the icon of the program I'm looking for rather than it being in a fixed location.

A concrete example:
I have a bunch of applications open and I decide to play some music. Where's my Winamp icon? Oh, it's all the way along there to the right. It doesn't take long to find the icon but should I really have to?

I'm aware they are trying to pull an Apple and merge the concept of shortcuts with running programs but what if I prefer it that way? Hopefully I can cobble together what I want out of deskband toolbars.

2. Reshuffing settings. Something I do reasonably often is change my network settings, enable/disabled adapters to switch from wireless to wired. In XP (classic start menu) I would go Start->Settings->Network Connections->LAN Connection (right click)->Disable. I had my network connections expandable via a start menu setting so all my adapters were visible right there in the start menu.

In 7 this becomes a much more labourious task. You have to enable a setting to even show "Network" on the start menu to begin with. Now there are two ways to access Network and Sharing Centre: 1) Start->Network (right click)->Properties or 2) Start->Network->Network and Sharing Centre. From there click Adapter Settings to see your network adapters. So one step turns into about four. I guess a good thing about this is that because of the tedious and clumsy ways I have to access my configuration options, I'll be using the command line a lot more ;-)

3. No classic start menu. In XP I had a very particular way of setting up my start menu. At work I have about fifteen different apps I use every day. Accessing apps quickly speeds me up and keeps my focus on what I'm doing. I'm not sure how many people know this because I figured it out by accident. When you have the classic start menu open and you press any other key on the keyboard, any visible icon that starts with that letter/number on the start menu will be selected. If there is only one icon that starts with that letter/number, it will be activated.

So I set up the apps I use most frequently as top level start menu shortcuts with numbers preceding their titles. e.g. "1-Visual Studio 2005". To activate any given app I'd hit the Window key (note that I don't have to hold it down) then 1-9 for the app I need. You might say "just pin these apps to the Windows 7 taskbar and activate them with Win+1, Win+2 etc. noob!". With fifteen apps pinned to the taskbar it would just be chaos and you know that.

You might then say "use the built in start menu search to find what you want!", this is a big waste of time. It's much faster to hit two keys one after the other than to hit start then start typing a description of what I'm after. It's also non-deterministic- if I start typing "Visual Studio" it might select the VS2005 icon by default or if might select a PDF in My Documents with "Visual Studio" in the title. I have to engage my brain to make sure I'm selecting the right thing which slows me down. I know exactly what app I want to run, don't make me parse through a bunch of noise to find it.

3. Explorer changes. I know this was brought in in Vista but why on earth does the backspace key now make you navigate Back rather than Up? If I'm in directory C:\Eclipse\bin and I hit backspace, I want to go to C:\Eclipse, not to whatever directory I happened to browse to the current one from! What really kills me is that there's already a key combo for Back, Alt+Left, but for some reason they though we'd rather have two ways to go Back rather than one for Back and one for Up.

Edit: I've just had a look in Windows Help and it appears Alt+Up works for Up in Windows Explorer. I'm still not happy that they stole my backspace ;-)

That's all I can be bothered venting for now. Hopefully as I find out more about the OS and the keyboard shortcuts my speed at using Windows 7 will return to XP levels.

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